COOL-GIRL UNIFORM: A sales-savvy vet recently launched a new line called La Bete, hoping she got the formula right on her fur-collared leather motorcycle jackets.
Jessica Kruse, owner of the Addison Crescent showroom in Los Angeles and New York, launched her line with a classic moto-style jacket along with a cropped version in suede and leather, dressed up with colored fur around the collar. Spring expands a bit with additional fur color options in pastels.
The line, which Kruse self-funded along with a partner who handles back-end functions in New York, can be found in a handful of doors at Harvey Nichols and Saks Fifth Avenue, as well as online for those two retailers. It also picked up e-tailer Avenue 32 and some specialty boutiques mainly centered around the East Coast.
“It was a soft launch,” Kruse said. “I’ve been in sales forever. I think if I would have done the outreach, we would have had more boutiques, but that isn’t the way I wanted to go either. I wanted to start small and then grow organically.”
She’s banking on her experience in the business to help her navigate a market that’s become buried under the weight of a steady stream of start-ups and showrooms.
“Our industry is so inundated with another new brand, another magazine, another showroom. It’s too much of everything,” Kruse said. “Even when you go into the stores, it looks like a swap meet. Brands just get lost.”
Kruse began working in the industry in 1992, holding various positions at Giorgio Armani, Anne Klein, James Perse, Richard Tyler and others before opening Addison Crescent. The showroom represents up-and-coming contemporary brands such as Bec & Bridge, Loup and Kain Label.
Moving forward, Kruse said the strategy is to stay with higher-end retailers, especially given the jacket’s price tag at $1,150. Most of the manufacturing is done in Turkey, with some of it also in Asia and New York.
La Bete also sells direct via its Web site, which Kruse said is a must.
“The nature of fashion has changed so much that direct-to-consumer is the way to go, but I’ve had great relationships with retailers for so long, so both are really key in this market,” she said.
The majority of La Bete’s online customers are coming from outside the U.S., mostly from the U.K. and Australia which Kruse guessed could be the benefit of tapping the following of Harvey Nichols. Sales domestically have been a bit slower, which she guessed could be the effects of weather on consumers.
Knits may be introduced for fall and Kruse said the longer term goal would be to grow La Bete into a well-rounded line, but that’s tempered with the direction of the market. “People are still looking for items and buyers aren’t really buying as a collection right now,” Kruse pointed out.
The seasoned sales vet also said collaborations with other brands will be key.
“Any time you can give the buyer something unique and special and not just another motorcycle jacket,” she said, “it definitely gives them a reason to buy. Luckily the jackets were unique enough to get people to say ‘Wow, these are really cool.’ Those are the brands that are succeeding right now. They’re thinking outside the box.”